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Re-Foresting Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been shredded; a country rich with fruits, nuts, melons, and forests was degraded into barren hillsides and emaciated rubble. Torn by decades of war and internal resource depletion, but with the promise of vast mineral “riches” yet untapped beneath the ground, its history has brought it to a special place in time that begs the question — how do we move forward? There are two very different dynamics developing in response to the question and what we do as readers at the end of this article may directly affect the outcome.

Groups of large, multi-national corporations are vying for contracts to extract the mineral riches (1) of Afghanistan for shareholder profit, while promising to make a few Afghan nationals “very rich” and provide job opportunities in the mines for the rest (2). Details of military mercenaries-turned-bankers can be read in the just-referenced article and another piece from Al Arabiya states:

Any chance that QaraZaghan and other mines will come to Afghanistan’s economic rescue depends on whether ordinary people benefit from an industry often criticized for greed, environmental destruction and lack of transparency. (3)

In a country so besieged by basic security issues there will be little time or funding for regulatory measures of any kind. Meanwhile a small, dedicated non-profit organization, Samsortya 501(c)(3) is working directly with local Afghan citizens to restore the countryside and lives of those hardest hit by years of internal strife.

The Afghanistan Samsortya

Samsortya, a Pashto word meaning “re-vitalization”, seeks to restore vitality to an environment that has been utterly destroyed after 30 years of intense warfare. Founded in 2008 by Mariam Raqib, whose family fled Afghanistan after suffering the Soviet Union’s military invasion, Samsortya has been focused on establishing nurseries and local expertise as the source of trees to provide food and reforest a decimated landscape.

In Mariam’s own words:

Specific projects include the development of nurseries, introduction of higher quality species of trees to the region, and the re-population of deforested regions with trees. Crucial to this undertaking is a focus on creating awareness about the environment and the needs of the local community, training people to plant and take care of the trees, and providing them with the resources needed to accomplish this task. (4)

Mariam, who traced leaf shapes in her childhood and remembers the rich fertile soil, treed hillsides, lush crops and fruit trees of Jalalabad, now works with elders, children and women to grow and nurture the public gardens in town. Despite the loss of 60-80% of the nation’s forests and fruit orchards from war, in four short years Samsortya and local Afghan farmers in Jalalabad have dug new wells, established fledgling tree nurseries from seed, and now produce high-quality saplings from cuttings. Initial trees propagated were four nitrogen fixing support species (acacias) plus Moringa oleifera. The nurseries include critical dry-climate features such as sunken beds, windbreaks, shading, and wild perimeters.

Jalalabad Nursery

They have been able to accomplish all of this by recognizing the importance of community, sense of place, and multigenerational relationships. Samsortya’s approach forgoes the usual interference of outside aid organization “expertise” or one-size-fits-all solutions, and works directly with citizens on the ground in Afghan communities. In this fashion, Samsortya has rapidly progressed from propagating fast-growing support trees to producing lemon, fig, mulberry, date fruit, orange, pomelo and eucalyptus trees along with wheat, sugar cane, maize, cauliflower, squash and pumpkins.

Samsortya partners

As permaculturists researching dry-climate restoration techniques here in eastern Washington State, we had previously identified Afghanistan as one of the few places in the world with a similar climate classification (BSk, BSh) and were delighted to meet Doctor Raqib through an event at Well’s College in New York.

Columbia Basin Permaculture has formed an alliance with Afghanistan Samsortya to exchange information about dry-climate reforestation approaches and environment restoration techniques. As informal partners, we seek to not only mutually promote the 2014 Afghan Tree Project but to accumulate and make available systematic strategies for semi-arid ecosystem design and implementation based on traditional knowledge and permaculture design techniques.

Samsortya has a goal to raise $10,000 for the women’s tree nursery for 2014 and maybe even an additional $6,000 to outfit the new well with a solar pump. Mariam is reaching out to the global permaculture family:

The Afghanistan Samsortya and the Surkhrud community are very interested in development that is organic and environmentally responsible. We are looking for opportunities to learn about and implement alternatives to traditional sources of energy, such as harnessing wind and solar power. (5)

Please visit indiegogo where you will find more information:

Afghanistan Samsortya’s website is:
Twitter: @afghantrees


  4. FAQ 13


  1. Dr. Mariam Raqib is a Wells College, NY alumna, and during her visit back to the College this fall, she introduced the Samsortya Afghan Tree Project. She also graciously attended one of my Positive Psychology classes to inform the students of this wonderful reforesting project in Afghanistan. Her heart is huge and her intention pure to assist in the regeneration of her home land. Let’s do what we can to have Mariam and the Afghan women and people be successful with this amazing project. Thank you!

  2. Most westerners haven’t been to Afghanistan and have no idea how totally devastated and damaged the land is. When you first step off the plane, you are faced with a stark, desolate, and bleak landscape. There is no sizable plant life except around rivers unless people take extra care to grow it. These trees are exactly what Afghanistan needs.

  3. Great project and great to see the power of the will to restore nature and human culture.
    I saw a couple of images of moringa oleifera seeds. This plant is amazing and its possibilities hardly can be overestimated. Give it a try in your permaculture projects guys, you will be amazed!

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